A road test. An amazing technology. An evening at the casino. This fun episode aptly called DMV demonstrates once again that nothing is what it seems in Billions!
It is time for employee performance reviews at MPC but the employees are not comfortable about it thanks to the recent employee survey and feedback drama at the firm. Even though the boss recuses himself from rewarding and punishing anyone on the team, the employees are feeling uneasy with the composition of the review panel; e.g. Scooter, who is not in touch with them at all (they do not even invite him to the movie night because they know he would never show up!) is sitting on the review committee. They ask the panel to skip the review for a year…
…and they do not suspect one bit when the higher-ups agree to skip the review and move on to organize a casino night at Gotham Hall instead!
It starts like a fun night at Gotham Hall with roulette, blackjack, craps, baccarat and Texas Hold’ Em. All employees are given $5K in chips and there is unlimited rebuy at their own expense.
And we find out what this evening is really about when Scooter goes into a room where Vanessa Selbst, a professional poker player, is closely watching the employees’ behavior with respect to gain and loss on multiple screens!
Victor – “aggressive but smart”
Dollar Bill – “total nihilist at craps”
Taylor – “a high-level thinking poker player…”
Ben Kim – “squeezing his original 5K hard enough to turn them into diamonds”
Tuk – “3rd visit to the rebuy cage”
And lo and behold, combining Selbst’s raw research with Prospect Theory (that is my turf!) Wendy has performance reviews for everybody.
So what is Prospect Theory?
Developed by two economists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, and awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002, Prospect Theory, in a nutshell, says the following.
Kahneman and Tversky propose that losses have a greater emotional impact than a gain of the same amount. They argue that, when an individual is presented with choices two ways – both offering the same result—they will pick the option offering perceived gains.
Just to give an example: Suppose we have the end result of receiving $25. One option is to give an individual $25 outright. The other option is to give an individual $50 and but then they have to give back $25. The net utility is $25 in both options. According to prospect theory, individuals are most likely to choose to receive straight cash because a single gain is perceived as more favorable than having more cash at the outset but then suffering a loss.
So I understand the reasoning behind the performance reviews conducted at the casino, but I am not confident that an individual’s casino behavior directly translates into their workplace behavior. Especially when you are encouraged to enjoy the casino experience, you do, and after all, you are playing with your money that when you lose, you lose your own money. However, at the workplace, you are investing someone else’s money, and when you lose, you lose other people’s money which has serious implications. Thus, while there is certainly some correlation between how one behaves at the casino versus at the workplace, one does not directly translate into the other. Because if it does, then how come either Ben Kim or Tuk Lal still keep their jobs at MPC? Oh, and how about Peach winning the big prize? I would not be surprised if she made PM soon!
Kevin Rhoades was a child when Billions started back in 2016. He is now a young man who is taking his road test at DMV. And how sweet that it is his granddad who has taken him to the DMV but we all know it is always a matter of when, not if, with Senior! And here he is trying to bribe Ern Quinn, the DMV employee who fails Kevin on the road test, and telling his grandson not to tell the police who his dad is, when Mr. Quinn calls the police and have Senior arrested for bribery! It is priceless to hear Senior say this is ridiculous because he was “social friends with Robert Moses.”
When Wendy and Chuck arrive at the police station, the police tell them that they have to arrest and charge when money changes hands whereas Senior blames Mr. Quinn for not being able to know the difference between bribe and tip! As Chuck has the police call Raul Gomez, the newly minted NYC Police commissioner, to free Senior, he also tries to calm Mr. Quinn down by pretending that his dad has some kind of dementia. But Senior denies it forcefully, it should be a matter of pride, and the case goes to the DA’s office.
Welcome back, Mr. Eisen! The guy who was able to get tickets to his Synagog from Chuck in return for introducing him to Ambassador Suarez in Season 4 Episode 1: Chucky Rhoades’ Greatest Game is now representing Senior. While Chuck and Eisen are able to get a deal with the maximum fine from State AG Mahar and DA Gramm, Senior is determined not to sign the deal unless DMV apologizes to him! He is still citing the contributions to the Rhoades family to which Chuck’s answer is a point well taken.
“Tell it to the bus driver.”
Chuck means the driver of the bus that Kevin was about to hit on his road test but Senior is adamant that Kevin eventually avoided that bus… As I am starting to think he may really be developing symptoms for some kind of dementia, Senior adds that Chuck would do something, too, if he saw Kevin’s face after failing the test. huck’s penny drops now! He did not see Kevin’s face after failing the test, because, hmm, he was not there. And here is the picture of parental failure. Paul Giamatti blows me away.
At the end of the day, using his authority as the US attorney of the Southern District who can make calls to the right people, Chuck saves Senior from legal trouble. In return, Mr. Quinn is getting promoted at DMV and his boss’ kid is getting an internship at the Department of Justice. How convenient!
But it is clear Chuck and Wendy have failed their son big time. Kevin texted both of them to ask whether they could drive him to his road test and while Wendy said she had a work meeting and asked Kevin to check with his dad, Chuck asked Kevin whether it would be possible to reschedule the test. And so Kevin called grandpa who think his grandson chose him because…
“…he knew I’d risk life and liberty on his behalf.”
And as Chuck and Wendy agree to communicate better about their kids, Senior explains to Kevin why “the tip” did not work 🙂
“There was a time when Benjamin Franklin was a key to the city. My mistake was not accounting for inflation.”
I know I am repeating myself but Senior has the best lines!
Philip, a Stanford graduate, visits his former professor Mark Ruloff who is working on a new type of concrete that would help erect buildings lasting for thousands of years. This bio-inspired vascular concrete in which the bacteria create a self-healing effect when the cracks form is expected to revolutionize the country’s crumbling infrastructure.
Knowing that Prince would be interested in this new amazing technology, Philip asks Ruloff to talk to his boss before putting it on the market. But the meeting does not go as planned: Prince is confident that the only way Ruloff can protect his technology against deep-pocket competitors, copycats and foreign governments is by selling it to Prince. And Ruloff does not want to sell his life’s work, that he calls his baby, to someone just because he has the money to buy it. Ruloff puts Prince in his place by quoting Moe Greene from the Godfather…
…while Kate reminds the professor what happened to Moe Greene at the end of the movie. Yikes!
Philip, who still thinks of Prince as one of the good guys, is surprised to hear from Ruloff the next day that “his good guy” has started an attack on the professor. Patent sharking, what Prince is doing, seems to be a real menace to technology firms. Prince is buying rival patents, even the ones that are remotely related to Ruloff’s technology that would give him a standing to sue the professor for infringement. And it is legal. WTF? I find Philip’s words to the professor about the Nobel prize going to the inventor and not the hedge-fund dude extremely naive. I do not think Philip seriously believes in what he is saying and I believe that the professor is quite right when he tells his former student that he is selling his soul to MPC.
Patent sharking is just another piece of information for us to understand who Michael Prince really is. And if you argued that Bobby Axelrod would do the exact same thing to get the technology, I would agree with you. But a greedy hedge-fund dude staying in his domain and a greedy hedge-fund guy aspiring to rule the country are two different things.
Taylor is the one who notices that something is off with Philip. Inspired by Will Guidara‘s best-seller book Unreasonable Hospitality they do not give a hard time to the guy who misses two meetings in a row but asks after their well-being. . Taylor is quite familiar with the emotion / business conflict that Philip is in – they had to break up with Oscar in Season 3 Episode 10 Redemption. It was Wendy who helped Taylor back then so Taylor now encourages Philip to Wendy. But I think Taylor does that also because they feel like the time may be right for Wendy to turn Philip against Prince – which I think will ultimately happen.
We see Philip entering Wendy’s office but find out about their conversation when Wendy talks about it with Chuck after dinner with Kevin and Senior. It turns out that, in his meeting with Wendy, Philip has mentioned Chuck so Wendy brings the matter to her ex. And while Wendy has told Philip about the blood-brain barrier and that parallel health is achieved with no cross-contamination, they both know that Wendy is now asking Chuck to talk to Philip and he will.
Now, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that one of my wishes for this final season is for Chuck and Wendy to get back together. I know that many fans loved the idea of a romantic relationship between Axe and Wendy but I have always believed in Chuck and Wendy as a couple. And Chuck’s words attest to WHY I have been holding out for these two to get back together.
Chuck: “In this arena, communication has never been an issue. We each know exactly what the other means no matter what the other says.”
Wendy:”It’s somehow reassuring and horrifying at the same time.”
I find it very reassuring!
The problem is that, when Chuck finds Philip in front of his building after his run and takes him to a Juice Press for a conversation, Philip cannot give Chuck any illegality to pursue. Instead he asks Chuck to stop patent sharking which Chuck is not able to do.
In the meantime, Kate comes up with an idea that would neutralize Prof. Ruloff. The professor needs to buy the enzyme he uses from a company called Enzy-Novo. If Prince buys this company along with all related technology patents, the professor, in Wags’ words, “will not have the starter for his concrete dough.”
I still think Kate is there to take down Prince and she chooses to come across as soulless this season because she plays the game very carefully. And one fun thing this season is that characters sometimes do not get the cultural reference 🙂 But it seems Kate has a reference for everyone. If Carla Fracci’s Giselle does not work, she gives them Michael Jordan’s turnaround fadeaway! Basketball always works with the MPC crowd. Ballet… not so much 🙂
It turns out that Ruloff is in an exclusive negotiation period with Enzy-Novo. And surprised by Ruloff’s self-confidence in getting into a buying war with him, Prince asks Philip about any weaknesses or vulnerability that the professor has that they can use against him. How petty!
Philip remembers Ruloff’s 1966 emerald-green Karmann Ghia 1300 that he really loved. Those cars were not known for their durability so Ruloff bought a brand new one just for the parts to save the green one! And while a number of people on the Board of Trustees at Stanford wanted to buy his car, Ruloff never sold it.
I guess Philip tells Prince this story to argue that the professor is very stubborn and he will not back down but it helps Prince to figure that Ruloff should have a backer at Stanford. So he tasks Kate with suing the professor on behalf of their other patents immediately…
…The case will take years, and it will feel like a Karmann Ghia 1300 staying in a garage that it will force Ruloff to agree to work with them. Very smart. And very inhumane.
Yet, before they sue the professor, the Department of Defense declares the new technology classified…
…which Prince is fine with. He knows that the special interest groups that would be badly affected by the technology will do everything for it not to be declassified. And since he is confident he will be the next POTUS, once he is in the office, Prince will declassify it which would help his administration start very nicely. And I giggle as Kate tells him, better yet, he could hold on to the technology until his second term so he could lock a two-term Prince presidency. I really think Kate is playing the long game, and deep down, she is mocking with Prince.
The loser of the episode is obviously Professor Ruloff who basically loses his life’s work. It is no wonder that he ends his engagement with Philip. I hope he does not have to sell his beloved car to pay his debts. And it will not be easy for Philip to recover from this. I think he needs time to digest all that happened but I do think he will ultimately join the ranks of Wendy, Taylor and Wags against Prince.
As Chuck and Wendy wait in the DMV for Kevin to get back from his second road test, Wendy reveals that she knows Ruloff’s technology being classified is Chuck’s doing. Chuck’s defense is that he hurt the professor but is now keeping the wolf at bay! And, he adds, this could have gone a lot of different ways once Wendy connected Chuck with Philip.
Chuck: “But then you knew that.”
Wendy: “Yep. I suppose I did.”
These two have perfect communication.
Kevin passes his road test and “Drive” by REM is the perfect song to end the episode. I love the chemistry between Chuck and Wendy more than ever. These two belong together.